Unique Side Trips
Uncover gems that are hidden - and quite a few that aren’t.
Dreams of mining that next big emerald often lure even those with another destination in mind. Unique side trips span across the state including the country’s only emerald mine open to the public, the Land of Waterfalls as featured in "The Hunger Games," the largest community of potters in the U.S., the world’s oldest mountains and much more. Make your next road trip a way to discover adventures on your way to adventures.
Discover unique side trips such as the lush forests featured in 'The Hunger Games'
Mine for treasure
Before the gold rush led everyone westward, gold was discovered here at Reed Gold Mine near Concord. Today, although few find significant amounts of gold, there are plenty of gems, from rubies to emeralds and amethysts, to be mined from our streams and rivers. Visit Hiddenite, home to the only emerald mine in the United States open to the public for prospecting, or Franklin, known as the "Gem Capital of the World."
Spin a potter’s wheel
North Carolina’s famous red clay is the raw material for an entire cottage industry in Seagrove, where Native Americans and European settlers alike learned to turn the soil into pottery that was both functional and artistic. Today, the Seagrove area is home to dozens of artisans who create beautiful works of art in their studios, many of which can be found along NC Highway 705, known as "The Pottery Highway."
Take a ride through transportation history
Trace the state’s transportation past at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer. The museum was established in 1977 at the site of the historic Spencer Shops, the Southern Railway complex that has been repairing steam locomotives since 1896. It’s also home to the Robert Julian Roundhouse, one of the largest ever constructed and one of the few remaining roundhouses nationwide.
Go behind the scenes of "The Hunger Games"
Even without peacekeepers, mockingjays and nightlock, visitors can connect to the world of Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch in North Carolina. The film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ popular dystopian novel was shot on locations and soundstages in the western half of the state, and "The Hunger Games" pilgrims can take travel cues from the sites that frame the action, the stars’ favorite off-duty spots and attractions that District 12 denizens would love.
See art in a new light at the nation's first state-owned art museum
The North Carolina Museum of Art, the first state-owned art museum in the nation and one of the premier visual arts museums in the Southeast, features a dramatic gallery building, home to a world-class collection including more than 30 Rodin sculptures and a center for special exhibitions, plus a 164-acre Museum Park. The building’s design has won 11 awards and literally places the collection in a new light, as natural light filters into all galleries through 360 custom-made skylights.
Explore some of the world's oldest mountains
Nestled in the heart of North Carolina, more than 50,000 acres of an ancient mountain range are preserved as the Uwharrie National Forest. A range of outdoor activities awaits visitors here, from hiking and biking, to hunting and fishing, to paddling and horseback riding. The forest is located just one hour from Charlotte and the Triad and less than two hours from Raleigh and Fayetteville.
Walk from Africa to the Arctic in an afternoon
The North Carolina Zoo was the first zoo in the nation to incorporate natural habitat enclosures for its animals. Today, it is still one of the largest walk-through zoos in the United States, incorporating more than 1,100 animals into natural settings on approximately 500 acres. The birdhouse is worth the trip alone, but here you can also walk from the African grasslands to the Arctic coast in a matter of minutes.
Satisfy your need for speed
NASCAR’s heart is located in North Carolina, and the hallowed pavement at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord is where that heart beats the fastest. In addition to Sprint Cup Races in May and October, the Speedway hosts a dragway and a great behind-the-scenes tour. For the super-adventurous, there are driving schools at the speedway that will let you pilot a real racecar around the track.
added: June 29, 2012
updated: July 25, 2012